Your best source of accurate information about native shrubland communities and California's most extensive ecosystem...
Welcome Natural History Enthusiasts, Students, Teachers, Scientists
Of all the distinct, natural communities in California, only one is found throughout and only one can be said to represent the state's most characteristic wilderness: chaparral, a special plant community characterized by drought-hardy, woody shrubs, shaped by a Mediterranean-type climate (summer drought, winter rain), and threatened by too many fires. It is within the chaparral where California will find its best and perhaps last chance to reclaim its wildness and preserve the quality of life made possible by the region's natural, open spaces.
This site is being updated frequently, so please return from time to time. Last update September 9, 2019.
The Chaparral Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational and research organization dedicated to the preservation of the chaparral, California's most extensive ecosystem, and supporting the creative spirit as inspired by nature.
Every dime we obtain through donations helps us defray costs for publications, education programs, and research. With no financial attachments to any formal institutions or economic interests we can afford to be the voice of the chaparral without concern over future funding.
So please join us to help support our mission by becoming amember at one of the following four levels:
Preserve and protect native shrubland ecosystems, especially the chaparral
* After years of teaching and environmental advocacy work, we have come to the conclusion that the only way to heal environmentally and personally damaging behaviors is to address their actual cause - our disassociation from Nature and self, and the resulting alienation from each other.
Despite civilization's influence, our ties to Nature remain strong as evidenced by the positive impact of spending time outdoors surrounded by the green felt of plant life, the conversations of birds, insects, and frogs, and the fragrance of sage, laurel sumac, and ceanothus blooms. With an open heart, Nature can foster a reconnection with the innocent, wild self that dwells within each of us. As that connection becomes stronger, it becomes increasingly easy to follow the dreams we have for ourselves, recognize when we project our inner conflicts on others, and see the natural environment as an integral part of who we are.
Nature provides a path to recognize and acknowledge psychological patterns that do not serve us. By losing ourselves in Nature, we can find ourselves.
"Nature is an incomparable guide, if you know how to follow her." - Carl Jung
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The California Chaparral Institute was established shortly after the 2003 Cedar Fire in San Diego County, the 273,000 acre wildfire that marked the beginning of the California's new era of catastrophic mega fires.
During and after the Cedar Fire, chaparral was inaccurately blamed by some as the cause of the fire’s devastation. San Diego County responded to this misperception by proposing a program to clear 300 square miles of backcountry habitat. After six years of involvement by the Institute and others to help the county develop a new fire risk reduction plan based on science, the county proceeded with their original program. The program was dropped after the Institute successfully challenged it in court.
Since 2003, the Institute has produced publications and provided hundreds of public presentations explaining the value of the chaparral ecosystem and how we can live safety within California’s fire-prone environment. The Institute has also coined several popular concepts to help promote science-based fire safety and an appreciation for the chaparral including reducing fire risk in our communities “from the house out rather than from the wildland in” and identifying legacy chaparral stands over 60-years-old as “old-growth chaparral.”
Chaparral now is more commonly recognized as an important part of California's natural environment. The US Forest Service has issued a major policy statement recognizing the value and fragility of the chaparral and has held several symposia focusing on the ecosystem services it provides. New publications are also helping the public recognize and appreciate the chaparral.
Still, there remains an artificial distance between people and Nature that continues to propel environmentally damaging projects and perceptions about the natural environment. As a consequence, the California Chaparral Institute continues to encourage leaders to tackle the difficult problems – land use changes, planning, creative approaches to reduce the flammability of homes and communities from within and encouraging all of us to allow Nature to play a positive and restorative role in our lives.
Richard W. Halsey Director
Besides being the Chaparral Institute's director, Richard is also a writer, photographer, and most importantly, a guide to help others reconnect with Nature and their wild, inner selves.
Halsey has given more than 500 presentations and authored numerous publications over the past 15 years concerning chaparral ecology and the importance of reestablishing our connection with Nature. Richard also works with the San Diego Museum of Natural History and continues to teach natural history throughout the state. He founded and has been leading the Chaparral Naturalist Certification Program over the past five years. The second edition of his book, Fire, Chaparral, and Survival in Southern California, was awarded the 2008 Best Nonfiction-Local Interest Book by the San Diego Book Awards Association.
Richard earned undergraduate degrees from the University of California in environmental studies and anthropology. During graduate work he received teaching credentials in life, physical and social science and a Master's in education. Richard taught biology for over thirty years in both public and private schools, was honored as Teacher of the Year for San Diego City Schools, and was awarded the Christa McAuliffe Fellowship which allowed him to begin writing his first book.
For a list of Richard's publications and interviews, please visit our Publications Page.
A Personal Message About Soccer and Nature
After controlling the ball 90% of the time, shutting out the opposition three games in a row, and riding high on friendship born from struggle and cooperation, our 10-year-old son's soccer All-Star team was forced into a penalty kick show-down due to a 1:1 tie. As each player squared off, the tie continued until the last, with goalie kicking against goalie. We lost. It was such lousy way to lose, especially since our team had played so well together. Such a one-on-one showdown just doesn't seem right.
You may be wondering what this has to do with chaparral; well, quite a bit actually. You see Sunday, the day we would have been playing in the final game had we won, our family of four spent the afternoon hiking up a mountain covered with magnificent, old-growth chaparral near our home. At one point the vegetation was so high and dense that our path had to weave its way through a narrow tunnel of ceanothus, the canopy of which arched more than three feet over my head. I'm six feet six inches tall. More than a century ago, such a place would have been a utilized by the California grizzly bear to travel from one side of the mountain to the other.
My son knew the plants along the way and proudly announced their names. They were friends to him. They were friends to all of us. On the way back down, we heard the bouncing whistle of the wrentit, a chaparral voice that made our hearts sing. Our son pointed that out too. It was one of the best adventures we've had as a family. You see, nature has a way of refocusing energies, helping to put things back into perspective. It allows us to realize (once again) what is really important in life.
Yeah, we lost a little dream on the soccer field and still felt horrible about it, but somehow it was O.K. after our chaparral adventure Sunday. Nature brought us back. And it wasn't just because we took a walk, but because we took a walk with friends from the wild. We felt at home. The characters and things around us were familiar because we knew their names and their life histories. They had meaning for us.
Beyond its value as a natural resource and watershed, chaparral is valuable as a place of connection, beauty, and peace in a very busy and sometimes confusing world. This is why I am so passionate about helping others learn to appreciate the chaparral or whatever natural environment is near their home. It helps make life so much more enjoyable and helps people smile, something we need a lot more of these days, especially after a not-so-good day on the soccer field.
Richard W. Halsey Director The Chaparral Institute
One of the best kept secrets of the chaparral is its remarkable wildflowers. Pictured here is a Humboldt's Lily (Lilium humboldtii) found at the base of Viejas Mountain, San Diego County. A walk through the chaparral between January and May offers a nearby, peaceful alternative to visiting other, more distant wildflower display locations.